For anyone who may have walked past a Blot Out show at Three Links quickly on a weekend night to avoid the sound and spectacle of studded jackets and spiked hair, Zach Abrego doesn’t look the part of a hardcore punk: His black hair is too neat, his brown eyes too bright and his skin is too lacking in tattoos.
His disarming politeness and unflinching candor also don't fit the part with his job as a grocery manager for a major retail chain. And most definitely, Abrego doesn’t look like a junkie in recovery.
“I'm not one of those people in recovery, a drug addict, alcoholic that had a hard home life or anything like that,” he says. “I actually had a really, really solid home life and good parents.”
His story begins innocently enough, at 15, getting his first taste of alcohol when he realizes that feeling drunk is the way that he always wanted to feel.
“I was one of those alcoholics that is an alcoholic from day one,” Abrego says with a light chuckle. “Normal 15-year-olds don't stash a bottle of vodka, get drunk by themselves and go eat dinner with their parents, you know, and that was my story.”
The next few years were a gradual descent into weed and cocaine, until dead-ending into a habit filled with heavy doses of Oxycontin, Vicodin and Xanax.
“I was popping five Xanax every day on top of drinking and smoking and all that stuff,” Abrego says. “I picked up a DWI and I went to treatment for the first time. I think I was 22.”
The sun is beginning to set when Abrego pauses to go back to his car and grab his polo work shirt and jacket, which he then pulls down over his Blot Out T-shirt to shield himself from the autumn wind while thinking aloud, “I didn't realize how fucking cold it was.”
A resident of Corpus Christi at the time, Abrego was shipped out to Kerrville for his first in-patient treatment experience. It's there he learned just how deep his addiction ran.
“I escaped the facility,” he remembers. “I went down this huge hill with a huge incline that was very dangerous to be going down. I went down there holding on to two branches and trees to get my footing and made it to the bottom where there was a two-lane road — one way left and one way right. I knew one way was to the corner store.”
Abrego remembers running through fields and hiding in people’s backyards to avoid getting caught by the facility’s “druggy buggy,” only to find that he had gone the wrong way when he made a left.
Nobody noticed he had gone that night, and rather than counting his blessings, Abrego escaped the next night, got down to the two-lane road and took a right.
“Not remembering a night, that's what they call a blackout,” Abrego says. “Not remembering a month, that's what we call a blot out.”
There were many blot outs to come. Abrego was in and out of rehab centers for the next four years in between moments when he’d find himself smoking crack with a stranger behind a dumpster or waking up Pulp Fiction-style with a needle full of Narcan in his heart.
“Hey, did I OD?” Abrego recalls asking the paramedic. “‘How close was it?’ And I'll never forget this, he said, ‘It was fucking close.’ That's the way he told me.”
This was literally the wake-up call Abrego needed in 2015 when he entered a rehab program for a three-month stay.
“How did I go from like straight-A student playing varsity baseball to a full-blown junkie?” Abrego asks himself. “A heroin OD is junkie stuff. I had to realize that that's what I am now, and it was hard for me to cope with that.”
By the time Abrego got out of his sixth stay in rehab, he realized that he needed a change in scenery; he needed some new job options and he needed to play in a punk rock band.
“I jammed with a lot of people in Corpus,” Abrego says. “I could never successfully get it with these bands because of the drugs and the booze.”
When he got to Dallas after completing treatment, Abrego quickly found a place for himself in the local punk scene and found a group of solid bandmates to play with in no time.
“One of my friends in sobriety said, ‘Hey, I know some guys, and these guys are punk as fuck. You ought to link up with them,’” Abrego remembers. “I drummed for their band for a little bit. We only played one show. One of those guys worked at Guitar Center, and Chris Helge went in to buy some bass strings or something. And we were like, ‘Hey, we're playing in a punk band. You want to play bass?’ And he was like, ‘Sure.’”
Over the next three years, Blot Out would rise through the ranks to become one of DFW’s most sought out and supported hardcore punk bands. All the while, Abrego was able to maintain his sobriety amidst a scene filled with drugs and booze.
“You wouldn't think that someone that does drugs and drinks every day is going to be cool with me being sober,” Abrego says. “But as Blot Out became kind of well-known in the scene, a lot of people knew who we were. I don't even get offered beers anymore.”
Still, after 33 months of complete sobriety, Abrego experienced a relapse back in February.
“Someone told me not to let the scene swallow you up again,” Abrego remembers. “And I told him that it wasn't the scene. And it never was the scene.”
People familiar with the root cause of the current opioid crisis are well-aware that the biggest drug pushing happens from the prescription pad, and it was to that which Abrego fell victim.
“This is a perfect example of something a lot of people don't understand besides drug addicts — how things can just set you off,” Abrego says, taking a nibble from a cookie. “I had a legitimate sinus infection, and I went to the doctor and he prescribed me Promethazine and Codeine.
“I was sitting at the table in my apartment, and I remember staring at it thinking, ‘I'm going to call my sponsor and if he does not answer, I'm going to chug it right now.’”
That call was never answered, and Abrego fell right back into addiction. The next day, he found weed, then massive doses of kratom, then moving to hydrocodone and Xanax when he just couldn’t feel the effects of the herbs anymore.
“Next thing you know, I'm in and out of a Xanax blackout, arguing with my girlfriend, and then I'm in a trap house snorting ecstasy while people are feeding me mushrooms,” Abrego says. “That’s when I realize that I'm going to fucking die. I'm worried about keeping Blot Out together, and there's going to be no band for me because I'm going to be dead.”
Abrego spent all of September in another rehab facility. Now that he is out, he has returned to work and is working with the band on new material. He knows what he needs to do to stay clean.
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“What is important if I want to make a difference in continuous sobriety, is to never, never forget the truth of who I am and never stop working my recovery,” he says. “They had a Svetlanas show at Three Links in Deep Ellum. I really wanted to go to that show, but where was I at 8 o'clock? I was at a detox on Pine Street speaking to people about recovery.”
More than anything else, it is Abrego’s desire to keep playing music that has him focused on making this latest rehab stay the very last one.
“I took a $14,000 pay cut to come to the job I’m at now because I didn't have enough time to play music,” Abrego says. “That's what I want to do. What else am I going to look back on? Like, am I going to say, ‘Oh, I did really fucking good as a manager over here. We had top banana sales.’ I like to fucking play music, so that's what I'm going to do.
“Recovery saved my life, punk rock saved my soul.”